Thoughts on Nancy Fraser’s essay "From Redistribution to Recognition":
Why is it that for academics, the solution to any problem is “a new critical theory” (69)?
It is an interesting starting point that requires the assumption that “both redistribution and recognition” (69) are necessary in a theory of Justice. This may well be the case, but I would like to see on what grounds she establishes this.
Fraser’s view on the economic consequences of gender division within society seems a little bit abstracted from the real world. Certainly she identifies real problems. But she moves all too quickly to the conclusion that "gender justice requires transforming the political economy so as to eliminate its gender structuring” (78). This seems like a worthy abstract ideal, but I can predict a number of practical problems with any attempt to implement it. Viewing social structure as the only reason why women are drawn to certain occupations (think kindergarten teacher) presupposes no biological basis for these affinities. Now don’t get me wrong, not arguing that women are only fit to be kindergarten teachers, nor am I arguing that men can’t make perfectly good kindergarten teachers as well (in fact I know a few). What I’m arguing is that the affinity for teaching kindergarten may be statistically more widespread among women than among men for reasons other than just social constructions. And if this is the case, then social justice is not achieved by ignoring this fact. And it also means that social justice is a lot more complicated than a simple prescription for eliminating gender as a social construction (a prescription that anyway contains no helpful program for how this could be achieved).
Fraser’s analysis suffers on the whole from working with the idea of groups, while leaving aside the fact that groups consist entirely of individuals. This seems to me the reason why her analysis is interesting, but contains nothing useful for how society ought to get to a more socially just level. I say “nothing useful” because her prescriptions are abstract and group related, full of ought’s and should’s about transforming structures, and seemed to leave out the very individuals whose job it will be to transform these structures. (Example: “The logic of the remedy… is to put race out of business as such”(80). Great idea, but who’s going to do it and how?) She plays elaborate games with abstract concepts, but these possess only a tenuous relationship to reality, and ignore all the interesting complications and contradictions that make real life so messy.
Fraser’s prescription for successful change, what she terms a "transformative remedy" (85), is economic socialism combined with "deconstructive cultural politics" (92). In net effect I suspect she is right. A decrease in economic inequality would make for a society better able to overcome differences. And inasmuch as "deconstructive cultural politics" means people respecting each other more, this is also a recipe for success. However, in practical terms the socialist societies that she refers to exist primarily in nations that are culturally homogenous to a much higher degree than the United States. And it is in these countries-France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark-that the loss of homogeneity has coincided with a marked increase in social tensions. As immigrants become an increasingly larger part of these countries, the same class and race-based problems that have long plagued the United States also arise. The lesson seems to be, where cultural differences are small, equality comes more easily, and where cultural differences are vast, the equality is much more difficult. This is quite understandable and even predictable given what sociology is learned about the process of othering.
Reference: Nancy Fraser. Justice Interruptus: Critical Reflections on the "Postsocialist" Condition. London: Routledge, 1997.